“Never let a crisis go to waste.”

There is debate about who first said the phrase, but regardless of who coined it it’s true enough that business leaders have been repeating variations of it for decades. To be clear, we’re not talking about vulture opportunists who exploit people during a crisis, we’re talking about business leaders who put panic and gloom aside and look for the opportunities a crisis provides to make their businesses better than it was before.

Yes, a crisis can make you better.

It’s hard to see the silver linings when your facility is empty, new memberships have stopped, and your usual revenue streams are drying up. So hard, in fact, that many businesses don’t. They go into defensive mode, looking around frantically for ways to cut expenses, stretch things out, just survive. When your focus is merely on survival, you’re likely to miss opportunities to emerge from the crisis with the business actually stronger than ever. Here are just a few examples.

Find new and crisis-resilient revenue streams
Even gyms with solid recurring revenue contracts have had to pause memberships. Most, if not all, of their profit centers are inside physical facilities. If your revenue has slowed to a trickle or dried up completely, that means your business could benefit from some revenue diversification.

  • Online group classes – Gyms not offering this before are scrambling to offer it now, mostly as a free and temporary measure. Use this time to learn, experiment, and plan how you could make this a permanent and monetized offering for your business. You may have a new revenue stream when this crisis is over, and when the next one hits you’ll be in a better position to retain revenue.
  • Virtual personal training – Again, trainers at many gyms are offering this as a temporary measure, but consider that many of the people who can afford personal training have very busy schedules and may be frequent travelers. Offering this service could remove a barrier to entry for new prospects or improve continuity of relationships for existing ones.
  • Nutrition counseling – Another service that can easily be delivered virtually, it also complements your goal of helping members to be successful in their fitness goals. We all know those people who work out faithfully but fail due to lack of nutritional knowledge or motivation.
  • Supplement sales – There are gyms quietly selling millions of dollars a year in supplements. A subscription plan with home delivery could be providing you with uninterrupted recurring revenue even during a crisis like this one.

Reach new customers
A natural extension of the above is the opportunity to acquire customers you’ve been overlooking. You’ve been focused on acquiring members who will come into your facility, but the reality is there is a large population of people who want to get fit but who just are not ready to enter a gym for a variety of reasons.

  • Shame or intimidation – “I’m so out of shape, I’d be embarrassed to go to a gym!” What a sad paradox, some of the people who need you the most are staying away. The online/virtual opportunities may be the opportunity to reach these people, build a relationship, build confidence, coax them in.
  • Social anxiety – The National Institute of Mental Health estimates 12.1% of U.S. adults will suffer from social anxieties at some point. That’s about 25 million people who aren’t inclined to walk in your door, no matter what promotion you’re offering.
  • Transportation or distance – Think of all the goods and services you’ve purchase in the last year without traveling anywhere. Those businesses are not limited to a strict geographical area, so why should yours be?
  • Responsibilities – What about the single mother whose only chance to workout would be after the kids are in bed? Or someone who is the primary at-home caregiver of a parent with dementia? Fitness shouldn’t be the privilege of only those with the option of freedom.

If you learn how to reach these people now, you will expand your potential customer base and have an edge over competition who ignores them.

Fill voids left by your competition
If you provide something they don’t during a time of need, you might acquire their customers. It’s already happening to many businesses. Find a void and fill it before your competition does, or before new competition forms.

Have proven contingency plans for the next crisis
We’re all anxious for this to be over, for a wide variety of reasons. It will end, and eventually life will return to normal. But there will be another crisis. Maybe not exactly like this one, or maybe worse. You’re going through the most intensive training right now. Document the lessons you’re learning. All those “we shouldas” and “if onlys” you’re thinking of now. Make contingency plans a part of your business culture and planning.

Do this and you will respond more quickly to the next crisis than your competition. And those small little bumps like storms and power outages will seem like no big deal.

Have a better appreciation for the power of relationships
With all of your gym locations closed, you suddenly found yourself without a product. The only thing left was to focus on your members, and your hope for survival is their speedy return when this crisis ends. But if you think about it, they were your hope for survival before this crisis. Relationships were more important all along. Too many business are over-focused on their product, when in fact it is the strength of relationships with their customers that is the key to their success.

There is so much suffering going on around us it’s easy to despair. But one of the powerfully hopeful things about it is seeing all of the acts of generosity and helpfulness being offered by so many people and organizations. Take time to tap into that positive energy, don’t give up, and don’t let this crisis go to waste.